Saturday, May 16, 2015

Coda: Process Errors in My "Honeymoon is Over" Post

In writing my post about how the "honeymoon" is over (read it here), I got a lot of positive feedback--especially from teachers, who said, "Right on!" The teachers who contacted me felt that it mirrored very closely their lived experience.

But I also think I might have missed the mark in a three ways.

First, I think that some people might have read the post as violating one of my core blog rules, posted on the right hand side of my blog: "All are welcome to comment, but please be respectful, and assume that everyone wants the best for the schools." And for me, that approach is supposed to extend beyond the comments section, and into my blogging itself. If it came across to you that I don't believe that the superintendent or school board wants the best for the schools, then I am truly sorry--because I believe that Dr. Jeanice Swift, and every school board member, DOES want the best for the schools.

Second, perhaps I should have asked for a reaction from Dr. Swift before posting my piece, so I could have given her the chance to respond. I don't say that because I think my blog needs to be "balanced" or "neutral" in the classic newspaper way--I don't think it does. In fact I think my best blogging happens when I write from a point of view. However, I end the post by saying that "process matters," and if I believe that, then maybe I should myself be modeling better process and opportunities for airing disagreements. [And--if we're contrasting past and present here, I can say that former Superintendent Dr. Pat Green never answered my emails, and Dr. Swift always answers them.]

Third, from a comment that somebody made about how parents "can send her packing," I think some people might have inferred that I want to start a campaign to get rid of Dr. Swift.

So to set the record straight: That is not true.

I think that Dr. Swift has done a really good job on a lot of things for the Ann Arbor Public Schools. As I say in the first post,
Some notable successes--she got the principals of Roberto Clemente and Ann Arbor Tech to work together; turned Northside into Ann Arbor STEAM; got the school board to open seats to schools of choice, and also attracted a lot of Ann Arbor residents back into the schools. The number of students in the district grew significantly, and that allowed the budget to grow as well.
In her first year, I think we saw a marked shift from a culture of "No we can't" to a culture of "Yes we can." I appreciate her energy, her hard work, and her interest in all facets of the district, Many (not all) of the current issues can be attributed to the fact that there are fiscal constraints, which we ignore at our peril. 

Do I see Jeanice Swift as a strong booster of the Ann Arbor Public Schools? Absolutely yes.

Do I agree with her (or the school board) on everything? Clearly not

At the same time, that does not mean I think it's time to "send her packing."

No, I want to convince her (and the school board) that I am right and she is (they are) wrong. :)

We cannot be like the queen in Alice in Wonderland, who--whenever she didn't like someone (Alice)--cried, 

No, I want to convince her (and the school board) that I am right and she is (they are) wrong. :)

I want us to be a community where we can disagree and model conversations about these disagreements. 

That's why I want a transparent process. I realize that union negotiations can make that difficult, but ultimately I think we help ourselves if we make discussions about disagreements public, open, and honest.

Look for a post next week where I try to make that happen.

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Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's A Zero-Sum Situation ($$$$$)

People seem to appreciate knowing more about the context for the discussions about union-administration relations for the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

You'll find the AAPS budget page here, and it's worth a look.

And the number one context piece is this: when it comes to school funding, it's (at best) a zero-sum situation.

The Ann Arbor Public Schools per-pupil funding for the 2014-2015 budget was $9,133 per pupil. In 2002-2003, it was $9,181. That's right, the current funding is less than the funding from twelve years ago. [In my parents' district in New  York, per pupil funding is more than double this number, and they are not at the top of the districts in their county!]

Per-pupil funding for AAPS, taken from the 2014-2015 budget.

Looking at the coming year(s), 
this financial situation does not seem to improve. 

And obviously--expenses continue to rise. Most particularly, retirement expenses (which are centralized through the state and charged to districts, and the districts do not control) continue to take a bigger and bigger bite out of the district's budget.

Even though the reason AAPS has higher per-pupil funding is because we have always supported our schools financially; even though we are a "donor district" and give much of the money that we collect to the rest of the state...
the state legislature continues to give token, if any, increases to districts like Ann Arbor (because we already get "so much" and it's "inequitable"), and disproportionate increases to charter and online schools.

Projections for next year are that any increases we see will not keep up with the cost of inflation, even without restoring teacher pay.

From the point of view of the administration and the school board, it's not a fiscally sound decision to raise teachers' salaries (even if they are not paid enough now), and several districts that are currently in deficit have gone down the road of spending that doesn't match income. The AAPS school board and administration are trying to avoid that.

And some people (me, among others, though I link here to Chris Savage's blog), fear that the defeat of Proposal 1 will be seen as by the legislature as an opportunity to grab more money from the school aid fund.


When we talk about the school budget, and the value of teachers and other school staff (teacher's aides, secretaries, principals...)...yes, and yes.

They are both important.

But financially, we're in a zero-sum game. If individual teachers get paid more, it is likely that we will have larger class sizes. But reducing class sizes is a proven way to improve achievement, and I think our class sizes now are plenty large enough.

That is the reality. Money, money, money.

Feel a bit stuck? I do.

And by the way--a good way to keep on top of what is happening at the state level is to visit, and subscribe to, the updates from Michigan Parents for Schools, And a good thing to do is to work with Michigan Parents for Schools to advocate at the state level.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Major Changes in Ann Arbor Schools Policies Again Put on Agenda at the Last Minute

Someone just alerted me to three new proposed policies, named the "prohibited subjects policies," that have been placed on tonight's board agenda, but were only placed there this afternoon...

I find the substance of the policies a bit shocking (although I assume they are influenced in some way by Michigan's right-to-work law, but I don't know much about the ins and outs of the law). But what is really shocking is that they are being added to the agenda at the last minute, especially given their content.

You can always look at the agenda and policies of the Ann Arbor schools board on BoardDocs, but if you were to look at them yesterday, you wouldn't (it seems) know what would be on the agenda tonight.

Here is the link to the proposed policies, but I'm just going to paste them in below as well, on the theory that most people will not click on the link. They're not that long....

First Briefing means there is still time to let the Board of Education know what you are thinking:

Policy #1:
Book AAPS Policies & Regulations Section 4000: Human Resources Title Placement of Teachers Number 4800 Status DRAFT Legal MCL §423.215(3)G).
The Superintendent or designee shall determine teacher placement based on qualifications (as defined by the District, which shall include but not be limited to state and federal requirements such as certification, highly qualified requirements, endorsements, etc.), the academic needs and best interest of District students, and the District's educational program. At all times, the District shall strive to place the most effective and qualified teachers in assignments aligned with student and District needs. Decisions about teacher placement, and the impact of such decisions on the individual teacher or the bargaining unit, shall not be the subject of any terms or conditions within a collective bargaining agreement between the District and a collective bargaining representative of such teachers. The Superintendent or designee may develop and adopt administrative regulations related to teacher placement. This policy supersedes all other policies on this issue.

Policy #2:
Book AAPS Policies & Regulations Section 4000: Human Resources Title Performance Evaluation Systems Number 4810 Status DRAFT Legal MCL 423.215(3)(!) MCL 38.93, as amended by Public Acts 100, 101 and 102, effective July 19, 2011 MCL 38.83a MCL 380.1248 MCL 380.1249, as amended by Public Act 257, effective June 30, 2014
The Ann Arbor Public Schools is responsible for the employment and supervision of all personnel. The District shall comply with Section 1249 of the Revised School Code, as amended from time to time, which mandates the inclusion of certain components within the District's performance evaluation system for teachers and school administrators who are regularly involved in instructional matters. Pursuant to Section 1249, the District shall: Adopt and implement for all teachers and school administrators a rigorous, transparent, and fair performance evaluation system. Evaluate the job performance of teachers and administrators using multiple rating categories that take into account data on student growth as a significant factor. Provide timely and constructive feedback to teachers and administrators regarding their job performance. Establish clear approaches to measuring student growth and provide teachers and school administrators with relevant data on student growth. Use the evaluations to inform its decisions on: the effectiveness of teachers and school administrators; promotion, retention, and development of teachers and school administrators, including providing relevant coaching, instructional support, and professional development; whether or not to grant tenure or full certification to teachers and school administrators; removing ineffective tenured and untenured teachers and school administrators. The District shall also comply with the requirements of the Michigan Teachers' Tenure Act with respect to the evaluation of teachers, as applicable. Decisions regarding the development, content, standards, procedures, adoption, and implementation of performance evaluation systems, and decisions about the content of performance evaluation systems, and the impact of such decisions on the individual employee or the applicable bargaining unit, shall not be the subject of any terms and conditions within a collective bargaining agreement between the District and a collective bargaining representative of its employees. The Board of Education delegates to the Superintendent or designee, the responsibility for taking appropriate action, including developing administrative regulations as needed, to adopt and implement a rigorous, transparent, and fair performance evaluation system in compliance with Section 1249. This policy supersedes all other policies on this issue.

Policy #3:
Book AAPS Policies & Regulations Section 4000: Human Resources Title Teacher Discipline, Demotion, or Dismissal Number 4820 Status DRAFT Legal MCL §423.215(3)(m MCL §§38.71-191

Teachers whose employment is regulated by the provisions of MCL §§38.71 through 38.191, inclusive, shall be disciplined, demoted or dismissed only for a reason that is not arbitrary or capricious. The Superintendent or designee shall ensure that decisions regarding the discipline, demotion and dismissal of teachers whose employment is regulated by MCL §§38.71 through 38.191 are consistent with this policy and the legal authority cited above. Decisions about the development, content, standards, procedures, adoption and implementation of a policy regarding discharge or discipline of a teacher, or the impact of those decisions on an individual teacher or the bargaining unit, shall not be the subject of any terms and conditions within a collective bargaining agreement between the District and a collective bargaining representative of its employees. The Superintendent or designee may develop and adopt administrative regulations that detail the standards or procedures for the discipline, demotion, and/or dismissal of teachers subject to this policy. This policy is applicable to teachers and school administrators whose employment is subject to section 1 of article l of the Michigan Teachers' Tenure Act. This policy supersedes all other policies on this issue.

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Dear Dr. Swift, The Honeymoon Is Over

For the first year and a half of Dr. Swift's employment as the Ann Arbor Public Schools Superintendent, I heard almost entirely positive reviews. She had her "Listen & Learn" tour, she learned a lot from that, and she proposed new programs and ideas. Some notable successes--she got the principals of Roberto Clemente and Ann Arbor Tech to work together; turned Northside into Ann Arbor STEAM; got the school board to open seats to schools of choice, and also attracted a lot of Ann Arbor residents back into the schools. The number of students in the district grew significantly, and that allowed the budget to grow as well. If the custodians' jobs were cut along the way, I think the thought went, that was just a casualty of the times.

All this was in stark contrast to her predecessor, Pat Green, whose honeymoon lasted about 3 months, and whose focus in budget cycles was to thumb her nose at parents, propose cuts that managed to tick off a lot of people without likely saving any money (remember the idea of cutting middle school Athletic Directors), and generally share a negative vibe.

Recently though, while going back through other things that I had written, I was startled to see the headline of a piece I wrote in February 2014 for the Ann Arbor Chronicle. Titled Good Ideas, Flawed Process, the subheading said: "New superintendent brings positive proposals, but Ann Arbor Public Schools board violates its own policies, undermines public process." 

At the time I thought that this had a lot to do with her newness on the job and to the community, and hey--good ideas make all the difference, right? Well, maybe not.

And now I think I can say, with full confidence: "Dear Dr. Swift, the honeymoon is over."

Let's look at three areas, all of which concern me--as well as a lot of other parents and teachers.

1. Testing: in particular, M-STEP Testing.
As you know, the M-STEP (or, as I prefer to call it, the MIS-Step) is the state-mandated test that robs teaching time, robs computer lab time, and does not replace any of the other tests that are already being given (NWEA MAP, SRI, ACT, WorkKeys, regular final exams, to name just a few...). It's quite a bit longer than the MEAP that it replaced. For those of us who already thought there was too much testing, well, this doesn't help matters.

Parents have the right to refuse this test for their children, but administrators have been nervous about potential implications for the district (at least for this year and next, likely none).

An email from the Superintendent implying that parents don't have the right to refuse this test, when they do, got a lot of parents hot under the collar--even parents who were happy to have their kids take the tests.

For myself, I wasn't surprised that the Superintendent was supporting the test (that's her job), but I was disappointed that she wasn't following the lead of Rod Rock, the Clarkston Superintendent who (with the chair of the Clarkston PTA, Ariana Bokas) wrote a wonderful op-ed in Bridge magazine about better ways to approach testing. Read it here.

2. International Baccalaureate schools: Huron, Scarlett, Mitchell

In the coming years, the Scarlett, Mitchell, and Huron schools are supposed to become International Baccalaureate schools. This is one of the ideas that came out of the first round of the Listen and Learn tour. To teach in an IB school, you need a certain type of training--and the whole "teach in an IB school" thing is really not for every teacher.

Past magnets and school openings have developed teacher staffing in different ways. Skyline's staffing plan was developed through a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the teachers' union; A2Steam's staffing was developed as a "pilot," which means that teachers there don't have certain union work rules or protections for a certain period of time.

And let's note that A2Steam is a much smaller program than the combined programming of Mitchell, Scarlett, and Huron (together well over 2000 students).

According to my sources, the teachers' union and the Superintendent's representatives were meeting monthly all of this year to develop an MOA around the IB staffing, and the union apparently thought that MOA was going to go to the board for approval. At the last minute, they found out that the Superintendent was ignoring the MOA, and bringing a proposal for a pilot program to the school board. The pilot proposal passed the school board unanimously, and I have no idea whether the school board knew in advance of the vote (I'm sure they know now) that the AAEA felt they had been dealt with duplicitously...that they had been bamboozled. And part of the teachers' question was, "Why act as if you were going to bring the MOA forward...why waste our time over the past year...if you never planned to do that."

3. Teachers as Professionals

All of that sets the tone for some additional conflict.
Last year, teachers agreed to take a "one-time" pay rollback. [Although why anybody thought things would be better financially this year, with our current legislature, is a bit beyond me.]
So now this year, the district would like to reopen the contract (so they can extend these pay savings) and the union has just said no, thank you.

And that's at least partly because of the issues with the IB pilot, above.
And a refusal to negotiate over pay will likely threaten the school budget solvency, and that's not good.

But there's another issue, and it's one that concerns me a bit more.
Several teachers that I have spoken with have told me that they--or other teachers they work with--have been implicitly threatened, in both subtle and not-so-subtle ways, for speaking out at school board meetings, for speaking to school board members, for writing on social media, and even for sharing their opinions about testing in meetings where there were only teachers and administrators.

This does not sit well with me at all.

If teachers are professionals, let's treat teachers like professionals.

In a recent letter to teachers, the Superintendent wrote:

Unlike what has been stated in the media, the teachers of this district are respected and affirmed both by the district leadership and the families of Ann Arbor.  Unfortunately, the state leadership continues to devalue public education and as a result, each of us must continue to call for changes in legislation and leadership to reflect the funding that is needed and deserved to adequately support our schools.  At the same time, we do not create good will for public education with hostile attacks on the district. Public attacks on the new programs that our community values and that our teachers have so competently developed ultimately harms everyone.  (Emphases added.)

While some people might read this as relatively innocuous, many teachers don't feel respected or affirmed by the district leadership right now. And in the context of the subtle and not-so-subtle threats that teachers have experienced or heard about, many of them are reading this as a warning not to criticize the IB program or any other new programs. And the irony is, for the most part the criticisms are not about the programs themselves, but about the way the program will be staffed, and about why and how teachers will have to reapply for jobs...for the teachers that I've talked to, this did not feel like much of a Teacher Appreciation Week.

4. Tonight's Board Meeting

Tonight's Board meeting (Wed. 5/13/2015) starts at 7 p.m. and has been moved to Forsythe Middle School because a crowd is expected. It should be interesting.

5. Process Matters

Dear Dr. Swift--

There is still time to turn this around. You are rightfully concerned about the district's finances. You are rightfully developing new and exciting programs.

But you have to see parents and teachers, and teachers' aides, and secretaries, and principals--all of them, all of us--as partners.

The end does not justify the means. We need transparency and we need good will.

Process matters. I mean that both ways--process does matter, and also--let's discuss matters of process.

And now, please read the coda to this post (think of it as part II), which I wrote on 5/16/2015.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2015

When the Custodians Were Cut, Where Were We?

Those of you who know me outside of my blog may have heard that my daughter Lior, a sophomore at Tufts University in Boston, is the president of the Tufts Labor Coalition. The Tufts Labor Coalition (TLC) has spent most of this year working on the unionization of adjunct faculty, and the preservation of custodial positions as the University switches contractors and decides to have fewer custodians (approximately 1 in 6 custodians' jobs would be cut) to cover an expanding number of university buildings.

TLC has been working with the custodians' union, the SEIU. In the past week TLC and the SEIU held a rally and a protest where several students were (intentionally) arrested in an act of civil disobedience. This week, students are hunger striking. I'm not a big fan of hunger strikes, but there have been articles in the Boston Globe, New York Times, In These Times, television, radio programs like Democracy Now, Huffington Post, and more.

[You can follow them on twitter @tuftslabor or on Facebook at the Tufts Labor Coalition page.]

Lior is on the administrative liaison team. Here she is (bottom right)
going in to meet with the administration. Note the banner the students
have hung at the top of the stairs. Photo from @tuftslabor.

I like this picture, because it names how many families
and lives will be affected. Photo from @tuftslabor. 

All of which brings me back to what I was thinking.
Last year at this time, the Ann Arbor school district was outsourcing and eliminating custodians' jobs.
[Read: Here and here.]

Where were we?

When my older son was in second grade, he and his friend decided to have a contest to see who could drink the most water. Not surprisingly, they drank a little too much, with predictable results. The custodian cleaned up their vomit--and though we made them apologize to the custodian then, I don't really think that's the thanks, or the apology, the custodians needed.

Where were we, parents?
Where were we, teachers?
Where were we, students?
Where were we, principals & secretaries?

Where were we, citizens?

And this plagues me now, as I have heard recently that several custodians are dealing with foreclosures and evictions.

Why is it that a relatively small group of students at Tufts can make a big deal about 35 lives, and we couldn't even lift a finger?

OK...I did lift a finger. Ten, actually, but only on my keyboard.

June 2014 story

April 2010 story

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Saturday, May 2, 2015

Yes, I Am Supporting Proposal 1--Join Me!

Three reasons that I am supporting Proposal 1:

1. Roads--I'd rather pay to fix the roads, than I would to fix my car. I figure bent axles, busted tires--it will end up costing about the same.

2. Restoration of the 
Earned Income Tax Credit--this provides some relief from taxes to low income families struggling to get by.

3. School Aid Fund--the restrictions on the School Aid Fund mean it is less likely to get raided. People who know seem to think that if this passes, there will likely be some relief to schools via the school retirement funds (which currently suck a huge amount of money out of the per-pupil school funding).

Oh, and here is a fourth reason:

Although this is a very imperfect proposal, I am pretty convinced that whatever the legislature cooks up next may address the roads, but will be much, much worse for poor families and schools.

Read more on Ballotpedia (neutral information)

Follow more links and articles at the Michigan Association of School Administrators information page (they are supporting the proposal)

What else is on the ballot? In Ann Arbor, there is a schools bond renewal.

And yes, I am also supporting Ann Arbor's proposed bond renewal.

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

Yes, I Am Supporting the May 5th Bond Proposal--Join Me!

The Ann Arbor Public Schools have a bond proposal on the ballot on May 5th. It's a renewal. I am supporting it.

Here's why:

1. The bond monies will be used to do things like buy new school buses, upgrade and add safety features to schools and school playgrounds, and replace school furniture. It can't be used for things like teacher salaries.

2. If we don't support the bond, necessary projects (like school buses) will have to be taken from the per-pupil operating funds, which would mean less money for students.

3. We cannot (thanks to Proposal A) ask for a levy for more monies for operating costs (unless we do a countywide millage)--so the best we can do is to keep those non-operating costs coming out of other revenue streams.

Read the AAPS information about the bond proposal here.

I hope you will 
join me in supporting this 
bond renewal 
on May 5th!

[And yes, I will also be supporting Proposal 1 on the ballot. I'll write about that later this week.]

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Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Discovering (and Remembering) My First Grade Teacher, Mrs. Delfosse

My first grade teacher, Doris Delfosse, died recently. My mom sent me her obituary. (Thanks Mom!)

There were some things in it that I knew about her.

I knew that she was a devoted and well-loved first grade teacher.
I didn't know that she taught for over 35 years.
I didn't know that she was the president of the Rye Teachers Association.

I have a vague memory of doing grave rubbings with her.
I didn't know she did that as part of a big Thanksgiving-focused unit. Every year.

We lived in one of the first towns settled on the east coast (1660).
It has the Square House, which at one point was the local inn, and "George Washington and Lafayette slept there!"
I didn't know that Doris Delfosse was a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, or that she volunteered to share American history and early American homemaking skills at the Square House.

And I really didn't know that Mrs. Delfosse, herself, created an important part of American history, and opened the door for women who came after her.

Here's why reading obituaries can be so enlightening. From the obituary:

Doris Delfosse... 
"was the first working woman 'allowed' to adopt a child in the state of California in 1966, after proving to the adoption agency and courts that a woman could indeed work and raise a family."

That's right. Doris Delfosse loved teaching--and children--so much, that she went to court to force the system to allow her to adopt, because she wanted to keep working. She didn't want to be a stay-at-home mom, she wanted to be a teacher and a mom.

[This reminds me a bit of a case that is coming shortly to the Supreme Court--the case of April DeBoer and Jayne Rowse--expanding the idea of who is a "fit" parent.]

Here's something I remember about Mrs. Delfosse's class. If we got in line to go somewhere (perhaps a special, like art or gym) and then we had to wait for some reason, she kept us occupied by having us imagine that our tongue was a person with jobs to do, like sweeping the ceiling and the floor of our mouths (with our tongue). Nowadays they are called "oral motor exercises," and I imagine that she learned them while working with kids with speech delays--but we just thought they were fun.

Here's to you, Mrs. Delfosse--thanks for your devotion to kids.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Guest Post: Guns First, and That's Great! What's Next for Activists?

This is a guest post from A3Teacher, an Ann Arbor teacher who posts here from time to time.

For many Ann Arbor community members, an issue of whether guns should be allowed in schools is one that has a clear answer: NO.  Many, many families, parents, and students came to board meetings expressing their strong convictions against having guns in our public community schools. The board, on April 15th voted for a resolution banning guns from our schools.  In Ann Arbor, rallying against guns in schools is easy.  On an issue that has such clear and logical implications, it is easy for parents, teachers, community members, and students to get on board with and advocate against guns in our schools.  

I love that families made posters.  I love that there were community members who came week after week to speak to the board.  I love that community members were unafraid to speak for the safety and well-being of our students and staff.  And I would love if this enthusiasm and passion made its way into other areas of concern for Ann Arbor Public Schools and the State of Michigan.  Many decision makers stopped listening to teacher voices years ago (or perhaps teachers need to speak out more clearly, loudly, and with a unified voice), and the reality is that we need more parents, families, and students, to raise their voices about issues pertaining to their schools.

The issue of guns in schools was easy because there was a pretty clear outcome from the beginning; most people, I believe, knew that ultimately (whether now or later) guns would not be a permanent fixture in our schools.  This was an easy issue to get on board with and add to the cadre of voices echoing the same perspective.  There are many other issues that are complex, require a lot of time, discussion, and consideration that are not as clear cut.  Below are two that I think are important to AAPS’ success in the future as well as questions to ask of your leaders (principals, district administration, etc.), and actions parents, students, and community members could take.  I welcome thoughts in the comments section.  

1. New and new to district teacher compensation.  In 2013 the Economic Policy Institute listed Ann Arbor as Michigan’s most expensive city in which to live.  With freezes, cuts, increased contributions from employees to benefits, and partial freezes to those who increased their educational levels, Ann Arbor and the State of Michigan must consider how it will retain “the best and the brightest.”  Back in 2002 the State Board of Education laid out specifics in their document “Ensuring Excellent Educators”, yet there is much left to be desired in regard to the work outlined in this task force report.  If our state economy is recovering, as our Governor insists, shouldn’t we be investing some of that money back into schools instead of raiding the K-12 School Aid Fund to pay for the general budget deficit?  [Editor's Note: On May 5th you can vote for an Ann Arbor schools bond renewal, and for Proposal 1, which will keep some monies in the School Aid Fund.]

If it cares about attracting and retaining very high quality teachers (as opposed to allowing mediocre or poor teachers to latch onto the system and hide until it’s too late to dismiss them), it must wisely invest in its younger teachers. Otherwise, newer teachers and millennials will move and find other cities, states, and districts to work for.  Perhaps this means that teachers, families, AAPS, and community members need to lobby in Lansing and actively enter the realm of politics in an organized fashion.  The largest factor in student growth and learning is not computers or technology, it is not a specific curriculum or fancy buildings, it is the quality of its teachers (one of many sources confirms this concept).  Teachers are the most important and influential factor in student growth.  It is time to show its teachers that they are valued.  

Questions to ask:  
  1. How is Ann Arbor actively retaining and rewarding its best teachers?  
  2. How is Ann Arbor showing its teachers that it values the work that they do besides a salary and benefits?  
  3. Why has Ann Arbor frozen “steps” (a type of pay increase teachers get with seniority)?
  4. Why has Ann Arbor chosen not to fully recognize (with compensation) teachers who increase their education?

[Editor's Note: Similar questions could be asked in other districts. In Dexter they are having big issues with health insurance; in Ypsilanti, the pay rates for teachers are very low.]

Actions you could take:
  1. Send an email to your school’s teacher or administrator about teachers who do fantastic things for your students.  Conversely, also send messages about teachers who are not so great.  If we want to increase the number of great teachers in schools, administration needs to hear not only about the great teachers, but also about the not-so-great ones.  
  2. Attend a board meeting and share a story about how a teacher has positively impacted your student (In the past, families have used board meetings to raise issues of problematic teachers, but I have yet to see a parent, family, or student tell a positive story about a teacher.  Perhaps this is because there is an assumption that all teachers should be doing their jobs with or without recognition).  
  3. Write a letter to board members and Dr. Swift directly (the entire board and the superintendent can be reached at or individual board e-mails are available here, and Dr. Swift can be reached at asking them some or all of the questions above.  
  4. Contact your legislators and ask them what they are doing in order to support increased funding to schools and teacher retention (you can find your representatives here and your senators here).  If you dig deeper and look at bills up for proposal, ask your legislators to vote for or against specific aspects of those bills.  It is not as effective to simply ask legislators to provide more funding to schools - be specific in regard to current legislation.  

2. Standardized tests and common assessments have taken over a large portion of schools’ calendars.  These can be used to drive instruction, although I have yet to see it truly used successfully.  There is a growing movement that questions the benefits of these tests to students, their validity of the actual tests, and their use in regard to teacher evaluations and instruction.  There are many independent schools that (as a selling point) tout the fact that they do not overload their students with the types of standardized tests that many public schools do.  Besides teacher-created classroom assessments and school-wide exams (given two to three times per year dependant on the high school), a high school junior next year could potentially have:
  • the SAT,
  • the ACT WorkKeys,
  • the M-STEP,
  • any AP tests,
  • district common assessment/s (dependant on the subject),
  • building specific assessments in content areas (known as SMART Goals - this changes based on the subject and department’s decision),
  • the SRI twice (which measures Lexile reading scores).  

Questions to ask:  
  1. How is each of these these assessments and tests necessary for our students?  
  2. How are these assessments and tests representative of growth and learning?  
  3. Will my student(s) be able to use their test scores in order to learn and grow?  
  4. How can we be smart, as a district, with the data that comes out of standardized testing so that it positively impacts learning and growth?  Which tests could we cut?
  5. Why is the state using texts which have not been validated or used before?

Actions you could take:
  1. Ask questions of your district and board of education.  Ask questions by speaking at a board meeting or through writing.  Become a part of the public record and seek answers.  In addition, this shows the board and district that parents, families, and students have a vested interest in their schools.  Remaining silent send the (perhaps unintentional) message that the public agrees with the decisions of the district and board.    
Ask questions of your State Board of Education - you can do this in person, via phone, or in writing (Ann Arbor also has two board members who live in town:  Eileen Weiser, a Republican and John Austin, a Democrat).   

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Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pine River Superintendent Speaks Out--Eloquently--Against the M-STEP

The Pine River Area Superintendent, Matt Lukshaitis, sent an excellent letter to the district's local legislators, school staff, and the school board. His points are different from mine--as they should be, because his point of view is different--but I think they are really important points.

I wish that more superintendents would speak out as he has.

I had to look up where the Pine River area is--it's south of Cadillac. Here's a map to help orient you.

Honorable Gentlemen,

So far, the M-STEP process is a painful invasion of teaching and learning and really, state testing has become an oxymoron. The testing process is not good for kids.

17 different days of testing for 11th grade students? Really? This is the best we can do? We "improve" the test by going from 3 days to 17? Have we collectively lost our minds?

At Pine River, our computer labs are tied up from April 13 to June 4 for testing. This is a good use of taxpayer dollars? I cannot fathom how many great minds it takes to change a state system from one day of juniors taking an ACT test on a Saturday morning in a high school cafeteria to a system testing K-12 students over a period of two months, but I'm pretty sure between the MDE and the legislature that we have discovered the formula. I'm saddened by this.

Education is not happening.

Principals and teachers are in high stress mode. Students are not learning, they are in Sarcasm 101 mode--how hard they try is going to be a true turkey shoot.

Terri and I have five children. Number five is a senior. Looking at what we are doing to the students in our public schools, I am truly glad to know this fact.
How many people have to be in charge of the local school districts? It seems like the state and the fed have over M-STEPped their boundaries.

How about the growing resentment coming from parents who are starting to demand that we excuse their students from the testing process? And the onus of responsibility is on the LEA to make these kids test? The state is setting up public schools for imminent failure. There will be test cases in our courtrooms soon. This testing system is pushing public schools over a cliff. I am afraid there may be a long, terrifying drop into jagged rocks....

I know a lot of really smart people came up with this wonderful theory of testing. The practice of teaching and learning however, is the provenance of the LEAs. Perhaps we should all take a giant step back and allow the schools to answer the needs of their community with more freedom?

Please stem the tide of this testing. It is just too much. Listen to those of us in the schools. Sitting in an office in Lansing does not help you understand the issues. Come visit us at Pine River Area Schools. Visit every district. Go see the schools while the testing is happening and talk to the teachers and the principals. Help us help the kids.


Matt Lukshaitis, Superintendent
Pine River Area Schools
Go Bucks!

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Upcoming Meetings for Ypsilanti Community Schools Superintendent Search

In Ypsilanti, they have begun a search for a new schools superintendent. They are trying to discern what is most important in the search, and to do that they are having a series of focus groups. Here is the information about the focus groups. I have highlighted the ones that aren't generally staff or board related. I really like that they have a special time for the 2012 and 2013 Willow Run and Ypsilanti school boards.

Anyway, if you fit into any of these categories, I hope that you will go to one of these meetings!




Thursday, April 16, 1:30 p.m.
Business Owners
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 2:00 p.m.
Central Office Administrators
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 2:30 p.m.
Central Office Department Personnel
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 3:00 p.m.
Support  Association Representatives and Support Staff
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 3:30 p.m.
Building  Administrators
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 4:00 p.m.
Teacher  Association Representatives and Teachers
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 4:30 p.m.
Non-­-Affiliated Staff
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 5:00 p.m.
Parent Advisory Board Members
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Thursday, April 16, 6:30 p.m.
General Public
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April 21, 11:00 a.m.
High School Students
To be determined
Tuesday, April, 21, 11:45 a.m.
Public  Governance Municipal, City, State
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April 21, 12:30 p.m.
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April, 21, 1:15 p.m.
Non Profit Agencies, Clergy
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April, 21,1:45 p.m.
2012 WRCS and YPS Board 2013 YCS Appointed Board 2012-­-2013 Consolidation Task Forces
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.
Tuesday, April 21, 4:00 p.m.
General Public
Board Room, 1885 Packard Rd.

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